Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Jemel has lived the life of an opiate orphan. Both his mother and father surrendered to the downward spiral of addiction in his formative years. His montage of memory includes endless attempts to talk to them, to make himself known, but they would rarely listen. Instead, their heads bobbed up and down as they watched the television screen. Invisibility became his superpower, but he wanted them to see him. He also remembers the embarrassment he felt when they came down the stairs naked. What parent does something like that? Remembering the days when they dragged him to the store so they could steal clothes and sell them on Jefferson Avenue still haunts him. Many memories still haunt him.
Most his life, his parents served jail time for stealing. His father’s lies plagued Jemel. At the time of his father’s arrest, no one could tell him his dad was bad. After all, fathers are supposed to be heroes in the eyes of their children. It was something he had to learn as he became older and wiser about the lifestyle of an addict. Since finding money for the next fix is always on the mind of someone with a substance abuse, Jemel never carries cash when he is going to see his father. In fact, he rarely even answers the phone when his father calls these days.
His mother’s addiction story carries a deep sadness for Jemel. She died when he turned 18. Although she was on the methadone program before her death, her years of drug abuse destroyed her body. Hepatitis C. was her demise. The doctors told his mom she would need a new liver, and they put her on the transplant list. She had died before her name hit the top of the list.
The day his mother died, she asked Jemel for a ride. He refused. “Something was different that fateful day,” Jemel says as he wipes the tears away with his sleeve. Her cough progressed into something horrific sounding. Before long, she started talking to herself. Was she on drugs again? Jemel rushed to his grandmother’s room and told her they needed to call the hospital. Once her breathing became labored, they finally called the ambulance. When the EMTs carried her down the stairs, her frail body crushed Jemel’s heart. Her veins collapsed when they tried to run an IV, so they had to put the needle in her neck, a gruesome sight for a son to watch. Her look of madness crept into Jemel’s memory. To this day, his heart still doesn’t want to remember.
After a short time in the ER, they wheeled his mother to the ICU. Pneumonia created the crazed monster he saw talking to herself. When the pneumonia was under control, in her last lucid moments, she wanted to see Jemel, but he refused. He didn’t want to see his mother attached to machines. He didn’t want to add to the countless memories plaguing him for years. Fear kept him locked within a protective shell he created for survival. Unfortunately, the next day she died.
Her death hurt Jemel, and yet it didn’t. In some ways, she had died a long time ago. He eventually got over it. Now, he feels as if he has forgotten her. He has visited her grave twice, but it is without genuine emotion. All he feels when he looks at her stone is abandonment, his status of opioid orphan. Jemel admits that at times he feels a sense of responsibility. Maybe if he called the ambulance sooner, she would have lived. Even though it is hard for him to fathom why he feels this way, he feels a sense of relief.
Jemel’s grandmother became a safe harbor for him. She raised him because of his parent’s jail time and addiction. She kept him on the straight and narrow. Drugs have never been a temptation for him. Jemel believes he is extremely independent because of his parental neglect. Addiction ruled his parent's world. It forced him to grow up fast, and now he is a man with goals and ambition. After he leaves Monroe Community College, he will attend Rochester Institute of Technology for a degree in Visual Communications.
Sometimes, opiate orphans learn from their neglective parents the value of giving of yourself to another human being. Jemel’s goal is to be someone who truly cares for others, which is why he coaches wrestling for East Henrietta School District. Coaching changed him, and it has given him a sense of freedom after being locked under the shell of his own fears most of his life. Currently, he is training an autistic your man who is overweight. They work out together every weekend, and he encourages him to live a healthy lifestyle. The principal asked him if he would sit with him on the bus every day due to behavior issues. As a result, the young man started doing much better. Even though he never had his own, Jemel knows how to be a role model.
Jemel has also experienced personal trials in life. He has Crohn’s disease, which has been debilitating at times. In December of 2015 into January of 2016, he spent three and a half weeks in the hospital. He went from 160 pounds to 96 pounds due to a flare-up of his disease. Now he helps kids in the hospital who are facing similar battles. He sits with those who are going through transfusions, and he also plays video games with them.
Jemel comes from a family with the disease of addiction. His mom’s siblings were heroin addicts, and his mom’s brother owned a bar where he sold drugs. What is amazing about Jemel is his perseverance in spite of the obstacles on his journey to the man he is today. I always tell him he is the strongest man I know. He has weathered so many personal storms and is still willing to be a light shining in the darkness of our world. He has taken his orphan status and given back to others. I admire his tenacity, his integrity, and his beautiful soul.